Members of our Bethesda Project family share stories from their journey through our continuum of care and beyond.
Just last February, Juan describes himself as a "very broken person," both mentally and physically. He had just been released from prison and went looking for help--where would he turn next? That's when he found Bethesda Project. "I met Sarah Erdo who told me Bethesda could help--she put me in St. Mary's with some other guys." Juan vacillated between two of Bethesda Project's church shelter locations -- St. Mary's and Trinity -- before space became available for him at My Brother's House (MBH), Bethesda Project's Safe Haven location.
Since moving into MBH, Juan has been working with his Case Manager, Chase Smith (shown left) to get the help and mental health counseling he needs while Bethesda Project staff works to secure housing for him.
"I was really, really down and depressed when I started," Juan remembers. "Now I’m positive 'cause I know I’m gonna get my own place. I’m just waiting on an apartment."
At MBH, Juan has even taken on a mentor role with his fellow residents. "I been around a lot of people with serious mental health problems and some of ‘em I try to help -- I’m always there to conversate 'cause I know what they been through."
Juan was recently invited to speak on a panel hosted by Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), where he was honored to have an audience listening to his experiences with incarceration and homelessness. "If my story can help anybody it means I did the right thing. I’m good."
Juan has been asked to return to PCOM for another speaking engagement once again next year.
Arcade began staying at Bethesda Project’s Our Brothers' Place (OBP) shelter in January 2015. While there he worked on his goals of obtaining income and housing. Arcade accomplished his income goal while at OBP and moved into permanent housing at Bethesda Project’s North Broad site in February 2016. Though Arcade was very happy with these accomplishments, he continued to find new goals to strive for. Since then Arcade’s primary goal has been “independent living.” Since OBP provided meals for Arcade and he was still getting used to having an income after moving into Bethesda North Broad, it was a new experience for him to go grocery shopping and cook for himself. During his first six months at Bethesda North Broad Arcade successfully learned how to budget his food stamps and income so that he no longer runs out of food before the end of the month.
January 2017 was a busy month for Arcade. As he neared his one year anniversary in permanent housing, Arcade accomplished several goals all at once. Around the holidays, Arcade reconnected with family in West Philly. He also started a savings account. Arcade loves boxing and wanted to receive an evaluation/training session from a professional boxer. Arcade worked with case management to budget and plan his trip, arranging the various modes of public transportation he would need to get to the boxing gym in Brooklyn, NY. With a stack of directions in hand, Arcade set out for New York City on January 28th and successfully took his first independent trip. When staff saw Arcade after his trip, he was beaming with pride and excitement for accomplishing these goals.
Since Arcade is so motivated to make his life better, he uses his accomplishments to encourage him to continue working on his goals. Arcade is now looking to the future and the goals he wants to focus on in 2017: becoming a better boxer, managing his money/budgeting independently, taking a vacation, getting his driver’s license, and obtaining his own apartment.
Juan has been a resident at Bethesda Bainbridge residence since 2010. Originally from a small town in Puerto Rico, Juan has been in Philadelphia for the last 12 years. The 47-year-old has a history of mental illness and addiction.
“When I was 15, my twin sister was brutally raped and murdered. I went off the deep end. I took vengeance into my own hands,” said Juan in his native Spanish. “I killed the men responsible for my sister’s death and I confessed.” Juan was sentenced to 36 years in prison but was released after 14 years served with good behavior.
His struggles with addiction began when he was only 11 years old. By the time he got to prison, he was hooked and the drugs continued to flow in the prison system. After his release, he was given a one way ticket to Philadelphia with only a few dollars to his name. “My family thought they were doing me a favor by sending me here but I had no one to depend on.”
Juan spent the next few years of his life living on the streets and eating from the dumpsters. He had tried all kinds of drugs from heroin to cocaine to pot to pain killers. After landing a spot on a city shelter, he was referred to Bethesda Project while taking steps to get clean. “I joined a methadone program and started working on a healthier me.”
Juan works closely with his case manager to develop short- and long-term goals. He likes to cook, a skill he learned in prison, and often shares with other residents. Juan likes to take pride in his appearance and often sports his collection of Indian inspired jewelry. He is also adamant about keeping his room clean. “I like to take care of my things. Every little bit I own.”
Juan recently ended the methadone program and proudly says he likes staying clean. “I don’t ever want to live that life again. I’m done with the streets.”
In February Juan lost his youngest son to gun violence in Puerto Rico. Although he was completely distraught by the news, Juan credits Bethesda Project for helping him through this tragedy. “I thank God every day for the staff at Bethesda. They’ve given me a new chance at life and have become my family and saving grace.
Abraham had been homeless for over a year before coming to Bethesda Project’s Our Brothers’ Place shelter. And while he’s been a guest, he has made the most of his opportunities from becoming a leader among his peers to starting a job with the Philadelphia Phillies.
"Living at Our Brothers' Place has been pretty good. The people there help you with everything if you're willing to do the work." Abraham certainly did the work. After putting his resume together, he learned the Phillies were coming to serve their annual meal at OBP and he seized an opportunity to give his resume to Phillies General Manager, Matt Klentack, who was present for the day of service.
"It was about 10 minutes before we were getting ready to leave," Matt remembers. "All of the sudden, this really impressive young man came over to me and handed me his resume and told me how much he'd like to work for the Phillies. And I knew I had to do something for him."
What began as a temporary part-time position is hopefully turning into full-time employment at Citizens Bank Park as the two kitchens in which Abraham works are battling for his talents. “He’s fast in the kitchen,” says Abraham’s supervisor, Chef Dean Dantridge. “He’s very hard working. If you give him a task he’ll run with it. And he’s a lot of fun to be around.”
“I was very surprised when I heard Abraham went up to someone with his resume,” says Abraham’s Engagement Specialist at Our Brothers’ Place, Kiriani Mattos. “I thought that was pretty awesome.” Kiriani and Abraham are in the process of securing independent housing at Connelly House where Abraham will accomplish his goal of
having a place where his 11 year-old son can stay with him for weekend visits.
In the meantime, Abraham continues to take his responsibilities at Our Brothers' Place very seriously where he takes care of resident laundry and acts as an ambassador and floor monitor to his floor mates. In his free time, Abraham enjoys drawing and is trying to launch his own t-shirt company.
Alphonso became homeless after the death of his mother. He said that he just gave up and no longer believed that he deserved anything good in his life. He spent time on the streets of Camden, NJ prior to coming to Philadelphia, where he was also homeless for a long time. Alphonso came to know Bethesda Project through the Church Shelter at St. Mary’s.
During his time at St. Mary’s Shelter Alphonso battled issues of drug addiction and mental illness. It was extremely difficult for him to focus on his own needs, often believing that the only way he was worthy of any respect was when he was taking care of and providing for others. This meant that Alphonso often went without meeting his basic needs in order to ensure that his friends who were also homeless had what they needed. Alphonso took a risk and began building a relationship with the church shelter staff, who always encouraged him to put himself first. Through working with his case manager, he was linked to mental health counseling and treatment and began to deal with the immense grief he was carrying around about his mother’s passing. Alphonso began to transform. He began seeing a medical doctor for regular care, and also started an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment program.
Alphonso then moved into Bethesda Project’s Safe Haven, My Brother’s House, where he became a leader of the community and helped the site win the Golden Broom cleanliness award. Alphonso has since moved into permanent housing with Bethesda Project, but he still visits My Brother’s House almost every day and helps them to maintain an extremely clean environment. Alphonso 's voice is featured in the video Angels Walk Among Us and in speaking about the Church Shelter Program and what it did for him, Alphonso says of the future, "It's going to be wonderful."
We’d like to introduce you to Harry, one of the first residents at Bethesda Project's Connelly House. Harry moved into the permanent supportive housing facility in early 2011 after staying at Our Brothers’ Place Shelter for two years prior.
Harry has struggled with reading all his life, and when he became a resident at Connelly, he identified furthering his education as one of his primary goals. Unfortunately, due to funding cuts, the city of Philadelphia’s adult education programs were not able to provide Harry with the level of assistance he needed.
Thanks to our Mission Development Facilitator, Tony Medwid, Connelly House staff was able to connect Harry with a volunteer reading tutor, Ann. When Harry and Ann work together twice each week, Ann brings her own materials that are specifically targeted to Harry’s reading level. The two have developed a close relationship in the nearly two years that they have been meeting. Ann praises Harry for his unfailing warmth, generosity, and sense of humor, and Harry expresses thanks for Ann’s dedication. “We’re good friends,” he says.
Beyond working to improve his literacy while at Connelly, Harry has also been able to improve his income by receiving SSDI. Further, Harry has begun regularly volunteering at MANNA, where he enjoys working with other volunteers to pack lunches for men and women who cannot cook meals for themselves.
Within the next year, Harry looks forward to moving into subsidized housing in Virginia to be near his family. In the meantime, he plans to stay healthy and happy while he continues volunteering and meeting with Ann to improve his reading skills. In fact, one of his New Year’s resolutions is to make more trips to the library.
Monica came to Bethesda Project seeking a peaceful home after fleeing an abusive relationship. Suffering severe depression, Monica had entered a mental health treatment program at a hospital. Her case manager at the hospital learned of the domestic violence and urged her to enter a safe house for women. Free of her abuser, Monica was homeless and arrived at the shelter with almost nothing.
Staff at the safe house recognized Monica’s fragile condition and helped her apply to live at Bethesda Spruce, a permanent residence for 16 women.
“I came here and I was really moved by the environment,” says Monica. “It looked like my house at home, where I grew up.”
Once in the house, Monica found support from staff and residents alike. When Monica first arrived, several residents shared food with her. The community supported Monica’s efforts to earn a certificate in Medical Administration from a technical institute. Program Coordinator Kathleen Sonnie, RSM, helped her get a desk for her room, so that she could study quietly. One resident helped her study by reading out flashcards.
“I don’t know what I would do without their help,” said Monica, who graduated from the program with a 3.9 GPA and perfect attendance.
The community at Bethesda Spruce also supports Monica emotionally and spiritually. “Living here has helped my struggles with depression, because I can talk to anybody. Prayer helps, too.”
Monica has started speaking publicly against domestic violence and plans to next obtain an Associates’ Degree in Social Work. She’s interested in mentoring others. “I’ve been homeless, I’ve been abused, and I know what it means to be out there in the world and not have anything, and just rise up, from nothing, to have something.”